Should the Labour party let the Labour moderates leave?
As Labour faces an existential crisis with deep divisions on which direction the party should go in, many among both wings, left and right, are now openly asking if whether the Labour party should split.
Angela Eagle, who resigned from her position in the shadow cabinet, has criticised Jeremy Corbyn for not having been involved in key campaigning (like the EU referendum) yet has claimed credit for them.
Meanwhile, shadow chancellor John McDonnell has accused Corbyn’s opponents of trying to destroy the Labour party in order to get rid of the elected leader.
But even local MPs are facing huge attacks on their own credibility. The ex-Labour shadow equalities minister and chair of Owen Smith’s campaign Kate Green, has faced a bruising defeat in her own constituency Labour party (CLP) of Stretford and Urmston, where the members have voted to nominate Corbyn by a 72–46 margin.
It is therefore hard to see how the Labour party could survive without a split. However, herein lies the problem for the “self-proclaimed Labour moderates”. They have no real leader, no political agenda and no ideas.
Labour moderates have no big beasts to push forward against Corbyn. David Miliband has long since left the scene, Andy Burnham has remained loyal to the party’s membership, while Alan Johnson had his chance to go for the job but ducked out as he had no real momentum to support his candidacy. Hilary Benn can make good speeches but lacks the courage necessary to fight Corbyn while Chuka Umunna or Dan Jarvis have preferred to stay in the shadows.
Few contenders of any calibre have thrown their hats in, so their best hope has turned out to be Smith. But he is hardly a grassroots favourite, attracting just 1% support from Labour members when they were presented with a list of possible challengers to Corbyn by YouGov. So his insistence of being “radical” is more or less a belated attempt to sound exciting and not just a fake alternative to Corbyn.
Even worse is the state of their political stance. What do the Labour moderates have to offer that hasn’t been tried before? What they believe in is a Labour party stuck in 1997 based on high borrowing and on a strong PR campaign to sell it. Unfortunately for them, their Labour party’s long since gone. And even if they claimed that Corbyn’s brand of socialism does not work, their own version of the “workers’ paradise” led the party to lose 5m votes between 1997 and 2010.
The Labour moderates are politically bankrupt but they haven’t realised it yet — and that is where the danger lies.
If Corbyn wins the Labour leadership election, all those who wanted him out will need to tread carefully. The left, and the main backer of Corbyn’s campaign Unite the Union, have already threatened to put all MPs up for reselection before the next election, which would put their future careers at the mercy of an infuriated membership. Having won a new mandate for his agenda, Corbyn will be able to force this on them with renewed vigour. The Labour moderates will have to decide whether to survive by respecting his agenda, even if they don’t agree with it, or try and wrestle control from him via internal party procedures — or to break and form their own party with the risk of being completely wiped out.
As the option of trying a semi-split by wrestling control from Corbyn is less likely to lead to a big backlash with the membership, let’s envisage what a split in 2016 will look like for the Labour party.
During its history, the Labour party has survived many splits from the left and the right. From the powerful Independent Labour party who left with a 100,000-strong membership in 1931, to the “gang of four” defections in 1983, the Labour party has always had to go through a series of splits in order to survive and strive.
Now, the most recent split, the “gang of four” is not the model that Labour moderates would wish to follow. The split in 1983 led to the creation of the SDP. While they were able to take a chunk of votes from the Labour party during the 1983 general election, thus helping to ensure Margaret Thatcher’s victory, they then declined and were eventually absorbed without trace into the Liberals. That is not a happy precedent. There will have to be some other solution — but the Labour moderates don’t appear to have one.
Therefore, it is unlikely that the Labour moderates will split from the party without trying to destroy it first. Their attempt of getting rid of Corbyn by orchestrated mass resignations of shadow cabinet’s members was met by a strong, regenerated Labour party membership. That was something they hadn’t planned for, and just shows their inability to understand that the Labour party membership has changed. It also demonstrates they are unable to lead an effective opposition to the Tories, which in turn will reinforce the need to change the parliamentary Labour party (PLP).
After weeks of dramatic and sometimes unprecedented political events, it is easy to lose perspective, even to become bit jaded and blasé about some stories. But the need of having a strong opposition to the Tories is primordial.
The left will need to get the party in order and be a proper opposition. In order to do this, there will almost certainly have to be a new Left grouping built around the “Corbynistas” and the soft left, as winning power through the democratic process is the reason why the Labour party was set up. It can only be achieved with a strong, efficient and united front. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Labour moderates will understand this, and despite them calling for “unity”, they will carry on with their sabotages and will only undermine the prospect of having a Labour government.
What should the party do in such circumstances? Carry on without being an effective official opposition or building on a party without the Labour moderate? There is nothing worse in politics than “sore losers and Bitterites”. So, it may be time for a divorce.